Showing posts with label Millsaps. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Millsaps. Show all posts

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Whale Discovered in Reservoir

Reprinted from Clarion Ledger
Jackson MS April 19, 1962

Ancient Bones Give View Of Past To Digging Crew 

Workers digging at the Pearl River Reservoir took a journey through time Wednesday when St-feet of fossil bones, described as everything from dinosaur to whale vertebrae were uncovered by earth-moving machinery. The bones were discovered between 8 and 9 a.m., when a piece of machinery lifted the top dirt off of the fossil. Shovels were then used to avoid damage, and the area was roped off. Digging continued in hopes of finding the head of the fossil but as yet it has not been discovered. Plans were being made to place loose dirt or boards over the bones to keep them in good condition until a geologist can examine them.

Dr. R. R. Piddy, geologist at Millsaps has been contacted and will study the bones Thursday morning, according to workmen. Workmen on the scene were mildly excited over the find, with much speculation as to what it was, but said in their type of work, they are constantly watching for remains of prehistoric animals. A guard at the Reservoir, Carey Alridge, viewing the fossil, neatly summed up the situation by saying, "Preached to me all my life that our ancestors had more back bone than we do looks like that might be right.


Geologists Identify Fossils As Back Of Ancient Whale (Earlier Story On Page 2A)
By VAN SAVELL Associated Press Staff Writer

Geologists identified a series of fossilized bones found on the Pearl River Reservoir construction site Wednesday as the back vertebrae of a 40-million-year-old "Basilosaurus" or whale. "The find is not uncommon," said William H. Moore, a member of the Mississippi Geological Survey team. "But, the condition is peculiar with its vertebrae almost completely intact." Moort described the ancient whale a member of the "Zeugledon" family as nearly Identical to the present-day giant ocean mammal, except for its sharp head. A bulldozer operator unearthed the unfamiliar charcoal object about 9 a.m.

Wednesday. Ross Grimes of Carthage, crew supervisor, stopped work completely when he realized what had been uncovered. , The geology team described the whale as about 35 feet long with weight between eight and 10 tons. Vertebrae sections near the real end of the fossil were 17 inches in length and about 40 inches in circumference. A white bone described as part of a rib was 22 inches long and broken on both ends.

After lengthy investigations, Moore told the Associated Press the whale "apparently sank to  the bottom of the sea and turned over on its back. "You see, the vertebrae is upside down and the rib cage points skyward." He described the peculiarities of the find, apparently rare elsewhere but common in the "Yazoo Clay" found in the area.

"The animal is almost completely intact, and with patient work, we might uncover it in the same condition," Moore said. "Apparently, the ground conditions caused the bones to turn to charcoal instead of the normal lime, causing the hardness of the object." Moore said a conference with Survey Commission officials would reveal whether attempts would be made by Mississippi to preserve the whale. "If we don't have the money," he said, "then we'll have to turn to some college geology department for the work." The fossils were found about eight feet underground and scattered over a 60-foot area, except for the 35-foot long connected vertebrae section..

Fossil On Display Ms Museum of Natural History

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Court Hears Case on Textbok 1979

 Authors' suit charges racial bias in history book

By CHAT BLAKEMAN Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
Tue, August 29, 1979

Is a ninth-grade classroom the place where Mississippians should learn that there have been more lynchings in their state than in any other? Will a photograph of white policemen arresting black demonstrators stir racial hatred or lead students to a true understanding of their past? These types of questions are at the heart of a battle that began Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenville before Judge Orma Smith. Although the issue is alleged racism in Mississippi schools, the, topic is not unequal facilities, alleged physical abuse, private academies or busing. The topic is a pair of books. The suit is being brought by a group that includes Millsaps College history professor Charles Sal-las and former Tougaloo College professor James Loewen, joint editors of a textbook on Mississippi history rejected by the State Textbook Purchasing Board in 1974.

The text, "Mississippi: Conflict and Change," presents what the authors contend is a candid but accurate picture of state history. It details subjects such as the treatment of slaves, blacks' accomplishments during Reconstruction, their plight in the years that followed and the sharecropper system that kept many Mississippians in virtual economic bondage. The authors charge that the Textbook Purchasing Board's rejection of "Conflict and Change" and approval of "Your Mississippi," the text now used, constituted pro-white bias in favor of texts that "minimize and denigrate the roles of black people in American and Mississippi history." The suit alleges, moreover, that the system by which the state approves school texts "is and has been an instrument of state propaganda to exclude controversial viewpoints, operates as a state instrument of unconstitutional state censorship, and fails to provide due process of law." Joined by representatives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jackson, the Jefferson County School Board and others, the authors ask that the court order "Conflict and Change" added to the list of approved texts and decide whether the book adoption system is valid. The board chooses books based on the recommendation of a rating committee and can approve as many as five books in each category. Acceptance of one text does not require rejection of others.

Although the rating committee rejected "Conflict and Change" on a 5-2 vote (five white members voted against the book and two blacks for it), the state maintains race was not a factor in the decision. The action, the state contends, was based on "racially neutral educational and academic standards." In statements made for the court, and in the ratings made in 1974, board members said that "Conflict and Change" did not include a teacher's manual when it was submitted for approval, employed a vocabulary too advanced for the average Mississippi ninth-grader and did not give "proper emphasis to the economic, social and spiritual development" of Mississippians. Others cited as offensive a photograph in "Conflict and Change" showing the remains of a black man who had been lynched and burned. Gathered around the bonfire is a crowd of whites. "I feel that this book contains too many controversial issues to fit properly into the curriculum of the schools of Mississippi," wrote committee member Harold E. Railes in his evaluation written in 1974. Another member called the book "too racially oriented." Frank Parker, the attorney representing the "Conflict and Change" group, maintains that race and controversy are the real reasons behind the committee's action. The other reasons are "rationalizations after the fact," Parker contends. ."There have been more lynchings in Mississippi than in any other state and you can't ignore that," Parker said. "Your Mississippi" was written by historian John K.Bettersworth, who retired last year as academic vice president of Mississippi State University. In its latest revisions, the book has been used in state schools since 1968 for required ninth-grade state history courses. In an attempt to show that "Conflict and Change" is the better book, the suit challenges the history presented in "Your Mississippi," citing among other examples: That it devotes only four paragraphs to the treatment of slaves and that those passages "minimize the brutality of the system and accentuate mitigating factors." For example, the suit cites Bettersworth's statement that "some slaves who were house servants received an education" and notes the book fails to mention the prohibitions against educating slaves and only 5 percent of the slaves were domestics. That In summing up the modern civil rights era, Bettersworth recounts that, "Gradually Mississippians, black and white, found they could get along together as they always had," without discussing adequately the reasons behind the civil rights movements. That in its use of photographs, the book discriminates against blacks.

"Your Mississippi" has only three photographs or 5 percent showing blacks only, while "Conflict and Change" has 20 or 25.6 percent. Bettersworth, a historian best known for his research into Mississippi society during the Civil War, dismisses the criticism, saying his book does not distort the role of blacks. Mississippi's system of adopting textbooks is shared in some form by roughly half the 50 states and most southern states. The system, provides textbooks free to public and parochial school students. Individual school boards may use whatever texts they want, but only those on the state's list can be purchased with state funds.

In practice, choices are limited to books on the list, which is revised every six years. The suit involving "Your Mississippi" and "Conflict and Change" is expected to last several weeks and it may be several months before the court renders a decision, lawyers for both sides said. Here are examples of disparities between the textbooks "Your Mississippi" and "Mississippi: Conflict and Change": ON SLAVERY Your Mississippi "While there were a number of cases of cruelty to slaves, public opinion and state law tried to see that the slaves were not mistreated. Plantation owners cautioned their overseers against using brutal practices, but overseers were noted for cruelty The code (of 1832) required the master to keep all of his slaves in good health and physical well-being from the cradle to the grave. In general, slaves were treated well or badly on the basis of how good or bad their owners were." Conflict and Change: "When the slaveowner or overseer felt that a slave had done wrong, he sometimes punished the offender severely . . .

One slave recalled a whipping that he had witnessed: 'I saw Old Master get mad at Truman, and he buckled him down across a barrel and whipped him till he cut the blood out of him, and then he rubbed salt and pepper in the raw places.' . . .This harsh treatment had other aims... it made them fear white men, and it attempted to make them feel that whites were 'naturally' superior to blacks." ON RECONSTRUCTION Your Mississippi: By 1874, taxpayers were ready to revolt. ..

Vicksburg and Warren County were scenes of the first incidents. Most of the city and county offices were held by blacks. Since whites paid ninety-nine percent of the taxes, they were very unhappy. The city and county debt, which had been only thirteen thousand dollars in 1869, had climbed to $1.4 million for Vicksburg alone by 1874 .

After 1875 the old hatreds began to fade. Mississippi was back under the control of native whites." Conflict and Change: "Many Mississippians still believe the 'myth of Reconstruction,' that the period directly after the Civil War was a time of bad government, 'Negro domination,' and racial tension. We now know that most of this myth is not true Many of the black leaders in Mississippi were educated; several were college graduates. Those who were honest and able were usually supported by both black and white voters.

All they asked was equal rights before the law. On the whole, Mississippi was especially fortunate in having capable black leaders during these years." ..,...:'.; 

ON THE '60s , " Your Mississippi- "The 1960s were years of crisis. A showdown over desegregation and civil rights occurred. As a result, Mississippi's relationships with the national government were strained. After the Supreme Court's desegregation decision of 1954, Mississippians took vigorous measures to resist. One of those was the organization of a group known as the White Citizens' Council." Conflict and Change: "In 1954, the Supreme Court finally ruled school desegregation illegal. A few white people agreed with the decision but did not speak out effectively. Others organized the Citizens' Councils and passed new laws to resist integration. At the same time, a few black people began to express their dissatisfaction with segregation.". 

ON THE MISSISSIPPI SOVEREIGNTY COMMISSION Your Mississippi "In 1956 a State Sovereignty Commission was set up to take the Mississippi case to the rest of the country." . Conflict and Change: "One of the most important acts passed in 1956 established a State Sovereignty Commission to preserve segregation. The commission promptly hired secret investigators to inquire into 'subversive activities' ... The commission also operated a public relations department to publicize to the nation the benefits of Mississippi's segregated way of life." 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Eudora Welty - A Visit of Charity

 Tomorrow's story for the Eudora Welty reading group is "A Visit of Charity" from "A Curtain of Green."  The story is about Marian, a little girl and member of an organization like the Girl Scouts (but not the Girl Scouts) who visits the Old Ladies Home to gain points for her organization and her reaction to the women in the home.

The Old Ladies' Home was a large wooden structure just east of the Jackson Zoo.  My grandmother was a contemporary of Miss Welty but a few years older.  My father's mother, she was deeply involved in the Girl Scouts most of her life, and in middle age, she and a group of women she knew became very involved in helping with the Old Ladies' Home.  As time passed, the City of Jackson became less and less interested in maintaining the Old Ladies' home, so it fell on private citizens to help maintain it and provide for the residents.  

Eventually, it became really difficult to maintain the old wooden structure, and only a few residents left living there, as most people had begun using nursing homes rather than the Old Ladies' Home.  Since I was on the board of the Zoo, she asked me to help facilitate giving the land and the building to the Zoo.  I told her we didn't really need the extra five acres (and another old building to maintain), but as the City of Jackson ultimately owned both properties, I felt certain there was a way to make it happen.

Sometimes, it's hard for me to read Welty's stories from an academic viewpoint because her subject matter seems so very familiar.  She wasn't family or anything, but it's really close.  It wasn't hard to imagine my mother or grandmother as Marian, the protagonist in this story, as both had stories about visiting the residents at the Old Ladies Home, as I'm sure Miss Welty did herself.

An avid gardener, she creatively includes her beloved plants in nearly all her stories.  For this story, she mentions cineraria as a small potted plant her antagonist brings as a gift for the ladies at the Old Lady's Home.  Sometimes called "climbing fig," you see cineraria in many Mississippi gardens.

Put on by the Mississippi Archives and History and the Eudora Welty Foundation, I'm really enjoying these weekly zoom sessions to discuss the works of Eudora Welty.  Many thanks to Catherine Freis for telling me about it.  

Monday, January 8, 2024

A New Perspective On The Academy

 Some of the best students of literature and history I ever met were electricians and plumbers in the daytime.  Some of the best carpenters and electricians I ever met were lawyers, doctors, and accountants in the daytime.

For forty years, I've advocated that Millsaps could work with Hinds Community College to offer joint degrees.  That way, your sons or daughters could get a degree in modern language and plumbing, history and carpentry, theater and cattle science.  So far, precisely zero people have taken up my idea.

You spend four years in college.  It costs a great amount of money.  The best thing we can do for these young people is to help them create a framework they can hang their life on, recognizing that their brains go in many different directions, and sometimes what they're best at isn't what they're best at making money with.

Can you imagine how useful a person with a theater and carpentry degree or a theater and electrician's degree could be for theater artists?

Friday, September 1, 2023

Fox In A Trap

When I was a boy, I heard the story of the fox who chewed his own leg off when it was caught in a trap.  I have no idea if this ever actually happens, but the story was applied to many things, particularly stories about girls you didn't mean to get with and guys who played football for Mississippi State and kept chewing off the wrong leg.  

In my second year in college, I became entangled with a girl from the Mississippi Delta.  She was descended from Washington County royalty and knew it.  She could, and often did, out-shoot and out-drink me.  Our time together nearly got both of us kicked out of college.  After that, she left Millsaps for Mississippi State to get sober and marry a boy who wanted to be a dentist, but never made it out of dental school.

After that, I figured keeping one special girl was asking for trouble, so I avoided it and adopted them all, mostly Chi-Omegas, but I married a Kappa Delta.  

There was, of course, one special girl, but apart from a few wanton glances and moments of electric passion when we touched in ways we weren't planning to, we never discussed it.  Not discussing it didn't keep me from getting written up several times for staying too late in her dorm.  There were more than a few nights when Ken Ranager and I would together seek an escape route without getting caught.  He was really very good about it and about as willing to go out a window into the limbs of an adjacent live oak tree as I was.  Trees and climbing things were intricate parts of my college experience.  

After college, I tried again to make one girl more special than the others.  A lot of my friends were doing it.  She turned out to be a pretty neutral experience.  Lots of fun and not much drama.  I wasn't the only boy on her dance card, but she wasn't the only one on mine either.  After about a year, it was pretty clear this wasn't going anywhere, even though she talked me to sleep on the telephone nearly every night.

After that, there was this girl who was going to be a sophomore at Millsaps.  She wasn't really my type at all, but she kept talking to me and asking about my day, what I did with my life, and what happened to that girl who called all the time.  She was very pretty, and she was absolutely determined to be a part of my day if not part of my life, even though we had absolutely nothing in common.  

Her hair was a mass of blonde curls, enormous and rigid, like a light helmet, but attractive if you didn't try to touch it.  Bid day was coming up, and she labored mightily all Summer for Phi Mu to make sure they had a great year.  There supposedly was a boyfriend somewhere in her life, but he was in-again and out-again, and on bid day, he was out-again, so I told her I'd take her to dinner, and then we could go to the KA house and CS's to see her pledges running around.

Taking her to dinner at the Mayflower, she began to cry as we passed the courthouse.  I pulled over and held her hand while she got her cry out.  Asking her what was wrong was fruitless.  "A bad day" was all she said.  I assumed it had something to do with Mr. out-again, who was at Mississippi State.  Even though she lived here, she'd never been to the Mayflower before.  After dinner, we went to the KA house to watch the madness, where I pointed out to her and the active members where we planned to put the addition with the concrete room and the fancy patio behind.  I would spend the next two years raising money for that and getting it built, even though the architect seems to have screwed us over on some aspects of it.

At about two in the morning, I took her to where she parked her car by the library under the Academic Complex.  For a little over an hour, I leaned against my car and held her as tight as I could.  Lightly kissing and lightly talking, it seemed really important to her that I hold her and keep holding her as the night hours slipped by.  "It really must have been a bad day," I thought.  This was a wounded creature hiding in my arms in the night air.  I'd experienced that before.

About a week later, a mutual friend asked if I was going to see this girl again.  "I dunno.  Maybe." I said.

"I just feel so bad about what's happening with her daddy."  My friend said.  This was the first I heard anything about this.  Maybe this is what was behind her "bad day."  Her father, it seemed, was in a federal prison in Texas, having been sentenced at the courthouse we passed on the way to the Mayflower.  

In high school, my steady girlfriend's father shot himself, and I found the body. I spent two years unsuccessfully trying to fill the hole he left in her life.  Now God sent me another broken bird with a missing father.  I didn't mean for this to be something I did with my life.  It wasn't fair, though, for me to have more than I needed when some people didn't have enough.  

I called for another date.  This time to Scrooges.  In the parking lot, before we got out of the car, I held her hand and said, "I know what you've been going through, and I just wanted you to know that I'm your friend."  

I'm sure she intended to tell me sometime, but she wasn't ready for me to know without her telling me.  There's some embarrassment in people knowing your daddy is in prison, on top of all the devastating emotional losses that come from him losing his liberty; all of these feelings were crashing over her like a flooded creek in a rainstorm while she gripped my hands for her very life and did her best to push out the pain by grinding her back teeth together, lest she scream.

Fortunately, she didn't wear much makeup, despite the elaborate engineering that went into her hair, so it didn't take much effort to repair her face in my rearview mirror when the tears stopped and we went inside.  This was during the era when Scrooges had a different quiche every day, despite the popularity of the book "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche."  I had that, and she had a chicken sandwich, and we talked.  We talked in the sort of way that people who no longer have secrets talk.  Even though it hadn't happened yet, we talked in the way that people who had seen each other naked in the stark reality of daylight talked.  

"If Daddy doesn't come home, I don't know if I'm gonna make it.  If my life doesn't get better, I don't know what I'll do."  She said.  "I'm doing the best I can, but some days, I just can't."  She said.  Was that a threat?  Was she saying she might do something if her father didn't come home?  Would something happen if he didn't?  Would she break?  Why was this happening in the path of my life?  Was I supposed to do something?

I let her talk.  I wanted to hear all of what she was thinking and what her plans were.  Forever after that, I became something of an expert at gauging her emotional health by the words she used and the way she moved her face and hands.  

After dinner, taking her back to her car, which was outside my apartment at Pebble Creek, I again leaned against my car with her deep in my arms for an unnaturally long time.  "Look," I said.  "I'm only twenty-three, and I've never done this before, and I really don't know what I'm doing--but I'm going to do my best to get your daddy home.  You're not going to make it the end of his sentence."

She pushed her face deep into my chest.  Soon my shirt was wet with her tears and then my skin underneath as her nearly silent sobs floated out into the night air.  I wasn't really that interested in this girl, but she was in a great deal of pain, so I committed myself.  No one should feel that much pain.

Over the next year, I talked with lawyers and judges.  Sometimes as a personal favor, sometimes for a fee.  I educated myself on the consequences of federal drug charges and the parole system.  I knew something about parole from my brother's experience, so I wasn't starting from scratch.  It didn't look good.  He had prior convictions, which was part of why his sentence was the way it was.  From what I could tell, it looked to me like he was covering for somebody else.  I knew about some of his associates, and they were pretty unpleasant guys.  

That next Spring, she told me she might not be able to go back to Millsaps the next Fall.  Something had gone wrong with her student loans, and she didn't know what she was going to do.  I called Jack Woodward and asked if I could buy him lunch.  He said he was gonna eat at home but to come by his office.  In his office, we discussed the situation, and he was able to find some more money.  What shortfall was left, I'd give him a check for, and he'd put it in one of his many spent-out scholarship funds and award it to her without her ever knowing I was involved.  We'd made that deal before.

With her junior year at Millsaps assured, I moved on to work on her father's upcoming parole hearing.  It didn't look good, even though he'd been a model prisoner.  What happened next, I can't really talk about.  There were other people working on his parole hearing for very different reasons from mine.  We were able to come to an understanding.  There were no guarantees, but the outcome looked much better than it did before.  

The next time I saw the friend who had originally told me this girl's father was in prison, I told her that I thought there might be a chance he'd be home before Christmas.  Then I said, "If this happens, then I'm going to separate myself from this girl as much as I possibly can.  I've gotten in way over my head, and it's not going to end well no matter what I do, but if I end it now, then it won't be that bad."  I'd developed feelings I never intended to have.  I developed them by spending a year trying to pull this girl's oxcart out of the ditch she found herself in, and now I was stuck.

Going into exams for the Fall semester, I met with her to say that in a few days, she would hear the outcome of her father's parole hearing, and I was praying for them both.  I gave her an envelope with two one-hundred dollar bills in it, with instructions to use it to visit her dad in Texas before Christmas to help restore her mental health.  Within a few days, she received word that he was paroled.  She and her mother and little brother used the money I gave her to go pick up her father so the family could be home together for Christmas.  

In my mind, my part in this story was over.  I'd stuck with it long enough to see happen what I said I wanted to happen.  My own well-being was in jeopardy, so I formulated an escape plan.  I went to Albrittons and got a drop with an opal surrounded by diamonds and amethyst.  These parting gifts were a pretty silly ritual I'd adopted to end relationships.  After New Year's, I arranged to meet her at The University Club for dinner.

One of the reasons The University Club didn't make it was because they were never very full.  By the end of dinner, we were the only people in the restaurant, but the bar was pretty lively.  I ordered a cigar from the girl with the cart, lit it, and pushed the gift box in white paper toward my friend.

I explained that we'd accomplished what we had set out for.  I fulfilled my promise, and it was time for me to go.  She began to cry.  She didn't understand.  "Look, I can't have feelings for you when you don't have feelings for me.  That's a disaster that can only get worse.  You have to let me go.  Your life is pretty good now.  That guy from Mississippi State wants to talk again.  Your daddy's home.  It's time for me to go."

"No." She said.  "There has to be another way."

"Look," I said, "I'm not going to hang around like some sort of mascot.  There's probably somebody out there who wants to be as devoted to me as I was to you.  If you don't let me go, I won't ever find them."  That part wasn't true.  The future didn't hold anyone who had that kind of devotion for me.  At twenty-four, I thought, surely that's how the world works.  I'd put myself in harm's way enough times that surely there would be somebody who just wanted me to be comfortable and was devoted to that.  I believed that if you gave life enough time, accounts would balance out, and life would be fair.  That wasn't the case.    

For months this woman tried to talk to me, to hug me, to ask about what was happening in my life.  Eventually, it started to really bother me that she wouldn't just let me go.  I felt like I'd been really fair with her and really done my best for her.  I deserved to have enough space to get over all this and move on to whatever was next in my life.  She didn't understand that.  Slowly, I started to really resent it.  I started saying really hateful things when she tried to talk to me.

One day, she said, "Sometimes, when you look at me, it looks like you hate me!"  

"I don't hate anyone," I said.

She threw her arms around me and wept.  She wept with the same passion and resignation she had that night we went to the Mayflower.  She was back with the boy from Mississippi State again full-time.  She knew that I knew that.  Soon she'd be showing everyone the ring he got her.  

Through her tears, she said, "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry."  Still crying, she pulled away and said, "But I understand."  And I didn't speak to her again for five years.


When my father died, a great mass of people came to the reception at the funeral home.  I stood in line for most of the day, shaking hands and receiving well wishes.  Most of it wasn't really very emotional to me, mainly because of the sheer volume of people coming through.  Although my friends came too, there would be what seemed like hundreds of my dad's friends between them.  I was holding up pretty well.

Toward the back of the line, near the staircase, I caught a glimpse of blonde curls.  "I really hope that's not her."  I thought.  I didn't look back again.  Soon, I could feel her presence.  I focused on the people in front of me so as not to betray my emotions.  Suddenly, she was the face before me.  I froze.  The muscles in my back began to twitch.  I could smell her.  

She reached up and threw her arms around my neck.  We both began to weep.  The line stopped, and then, realizing we were in a moment, they began to move around us.

"I'm sorry,"  I said.  "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I didn't mean any of those things I said.  I said some really hateful things to make you go away.  I didn't mean them."  I said.

She held my face with a trembling hand and kissed me one last time.  "I believe you."  She said.  "I understand.  Please be happy."  She said, and pulled me tight, and held me for what seemed like hours.  Then she turned and walked away, and I never saw her again.

From other people, I would learn that her father returned to prison and would die there.  Her marriage turned out pretty well.  Her sometimes boyfriend decided to be full-time.  Some people thought my story was really sweet.  Some people thought I was a fool.  To me, she told me she didn't think she would make it if her life didn't get better.  Her life did get better, and she did make it.  Whatever part I had to play in that didn't really matter because I wanted to make sure she made it.  It was her life, not mine.  What I got out of it was the story.  I can't say that a story is as good as somebody who loves you and takes care of you forever, but it's not bad.  She was never my type anyway.  

Saturday, August 26, 2023

What Happened to Feist-Dog

This project that I’m calling “Lies My Mother Never Told Me” has been openly banging around in my head for about a year and a half now.   Quietly, these stories have been whispering to me for forty years.  The funny thing about whispers is they sometimes say, “Go now!” and they sometimes say, “You better not.”  

What makes this project interesting is these are real people with real stories, and they all have histories and are interconnected.  I can put my finger down and say, “I want to start here.” in, say, 1963, but the story doesn’t end there; it feathers out like the Mississippi River Delta into time and space, spreading farther and wider, dropping more and more rich loam.  What makes this project dangerous is that these fingers, these feathers of time, reach into real people with real lives and descendants.  The story doesn’t stay in 1963; it reaches out through the seventies, eighties, nineties, and the millennium. It reaches until today, and if I write about things in the past that were painful, it could hurt somebody today.

For example, when I went to the McMullen Writer’s Workshop, the featured speaker was Andrew Aydin, a fascinating young guy who wrote a graphic novel about John Lewis.  So, I’m going to the lecture, and I’m thinking this is really cool because I’ve been into graphic novels longer than most. Lewis was a guy who really interested me, and this is pretty important work, and one of the first things out of Aydin’s mouth was how much he appreciated the school putting him up at Fairview, and in the back of my mind, I think, “Oh.”

Fairview is beautiful and a great representation of what Jackson can be like, and the food is really good, but, to me, that was Bill Simmons’s house, and even though he and Ms. Corley from St. Andrews made it into this beautiful inn, it’s still his house, and his history is so deeply intertwined in everything “Lies My Mother Never Told Me” is about, that I can’t really talk about the story without talking about him.  I can talk about pieces and fabricate whole sections that avoid him, but the story of how Mississippi moved from 1954 to 1994 involves Bill Simmons and some really unpleasant things about him.

Even writing just that sentence makes me nervous.  I’m pleased about what’s happening with Fairview, and I wouldn’t ever do anything to damage their reputation, but going to Bill’s house and having him show me all his books on the Civil War and what I call the “questionable anthropology” he studied for twenty-five years are part of the story–part of my reflection on his story.  The newspaper and radio program he wrote are part of the story.  The schools he created are part of the story.  

I can’t tell this story without talking about Bill Simmons; most importantly, I can’t tell the story of Bill Simmons without pointing out that I really liked the guy.  I know many brilliant people who also liked the guy.  As a writer, I can reconcile that.  That becomes part of my story, but I'll be criticized as a historian (which I am not).  Historians have written about all this.  Stephanie Clanton Rolph wrote about it, and I’m reading her book now for reference.  I think her work on this is much more important than mine, but Stephanie is a lot younger than I am, and she didn’t have all the sort of interpersonal connectedness I did.  I can’t tell you how to reconcile the facts that Bill Simmons was this brilliant guy who appreciated art and music and history but also believed and taught some of the most putrid, hateful things I ever heard.  Both statements are factual, though.  Maybe part of why the universe draws me to this story is that somebody really needs to make the point that it’s a lot more complicated than just saying he was a horrible guy.  

Another part of it is that I deeply love Galloway.  It’s a part of me, like a limb I didn’t use for twenty years but really need now.  People have already pointed out that there are painful parts of Galloway’s history in this, and if I loved the church, do I really want to dig all that back up?  

The answer is that I don’t want to bring all that back up without strongly making the point that Galloway worked through it.  Love and acceptance won out, even though getting there was rough.  Goodness won out, and Galloway was much stronger in 1970 than they were in 1960 because of it.  A sword has to pass through the fire to become strong, and we passed through the fire.

I wrote that long piece about why I was baptized by WJ Cunningham, not by W.B. Selah or Clay Lee, making the point that I never met Cunningham and didn’t really engage with his future in any way other than what I saw on paper, but it turns out that wasn’t true.  Joe Reiff helped make the connection that he was Lori Trigg’s grandfather, and I knew Lori well.  A guy in my pledge class was deeply taken with her; the rest of us were absolutely devoted to her. I very likely met her grandfather one of the years she was voted on the Millsaps Homecoming court, but I knew him as Lori’s grandfather, not the former pastor at Galloway.

Another thread that I’ve been interested in but can’t really make up my mind about is that Riverside Methodist Church didn’t die out.  They took the money the Boy Scouts paid them for their building and built a smaller church in Rankin County.  They have a website, and it's given me some tantalizing bits about what they’ve been up to over the last fifty years, but do I have the right to try and talk to them about some potentially painful and embarrassing things in their past? 

I can’t actually tell my story without telling the story of other people, too.  That’s one of the reasons why I post big pieces of it on Facebook, so people I know can pick it apart and correct me when I make mistakes and either privately or publicly challenge my perspective.  It also gives them a chance to tell me pieces of the story I don’t know, which is really interesting because these stories are fifty years old, and I’ve been digging into them for at least forty years, but every time I write about it, somebody tells me something new.  

My dad believed the only way to deal with Mississippi was to keep looking ahead.  Tear down all that antebellum stuff and build modern new stuff.  The past is but the past, and we’re all about the future.  I understand his point of view, and sometimes I agree with it, but the past is the stock and the roux that binds this stew together.  We’re not yet to the point where we can say the past has no hold on us.  I know that my dad, and Mayor Danks, and Mayor Davis tried to put a modern face on everything so the world wouldn’t judge us for the sixties, but those stories are a part of us, and it’s important to tell them.  I may not be the guy to tell them.  I may be better off writing about Dinosaurs, Robots, and Space Ships like Ray Bradbury said I should.  These stories don’t leave me, though.  They percolate through everything else I try to do.  

Even if I say I will stop working on “Lies My Mother Never Told Me,” it won’t be true because there’s more to writing than just moving my fingers across a keyboard.  I’ll still lay in bed, putting pieces together in my head while I wait for the alarm to go off.  Photos of brilliant people I used to know hiding in a corner of Hal and Mals will still catch my eye.  

I haven’t written about Feist-Dog in a while.  There’s a million other dogs living here, so he’s running around sniffing butts.  This is feist-dog’s story, though.  The day Medgar Evers was shot, Feist-dog was on the radio.   The day men ran Ed King off the road, Feist-Dog was on the radio.  The day Rev Cunningham left Galloway and the days Bill Simmons and Jessie Howell opened their schools, Feist-Dog was on the radio.  He’s just an imaginary dog on the radio, but this is his story.  I’m just a little boy who saw parts of it, and tried to piece together the rest.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023


I’m working on a project.  I don’t know what to call it yet.  Part of it might be “Lies My Mother Never Told Me.”  For this project, I’ve made a timeline of all the significant events in my universe that involve the Civil Rights movement.  “My Universe” here includes Jackson, Mississippi, Millsaps, Galloway, Ole Miss, St. Andrews, The United Methodist Church, Prep, Casey, Murrah, The Jackson Zoo, Riverside Park, WLBT, WJTV, The Office Supply Company, Mississippi School Supply Company, First National Bank and Deposit Guarantee Bank.  

The timeline starts in 1954 when Brown V Board of Education was handed down, and goes until 1990.  Some might say 1990 is too late a date for the Civil Rights movement, but keep in mind how long it took to settle the Ayers Case, or, as I like to call it, Millsaps Alumni defend the State of Mississippi from its own mistakes.  

I suspected and confirmed by making the timeline that if you made a heatmap of events based on date and geographic location, there’s a significant cluster surrounding the day I was born.  A superstitious person might think I was the cause of it all.

I use Uber a lot.  I have a high rating because I’m polite and tip well.  Not long ago, I was meeting a lady at Bravo.  My Uber driver was a black man about my age.  Some of the drivers don’t talk at all.  This one did.  “Where you from?” He asked.  I said I was from Jackson.  I grew up here.  “Where did you go to high school?”  I said I went to St. Andrews but didn’t graduate in a typical fashion, so I went to college a little early.  “I went to Murrah.”  He said.

He noted where I was going and asked if I knew Jeff Good.  I said I knew Jeff Good really well, primarily through his dad, and I knew his wife primarily through her being a girl at Millsaps.  My driver explained that he and Jeff graduated from Murrah together.  

People who graduated with Jeff at Murrah aren’t just regular kids.  These are the kids who started public school in 1970, the year that the Department of Justice took control of Jackson Schools and a year after Alexander V Holmes County, where the US Supreme Court changed the wording of Brown v Board of Education from “all due haste” to “immediately.” All the schemes Mississippi came up with were over.  We had to integrate.  Jeff didn’t live in Mississippi yet; he lived in a state where this sort of battle didn’t have to happen.  My driver did, though.  He and I were born in the same hospital.   That class who graduated with my driver were the first Mississippians to have gone all the way through school without ever facing public school segregation.

You have to think about why fighting Brown V Board of Education was so important.  If you’re in a state that believes it’s better off if everybody is educated, what does it matter if a black kid learns to multiply fractions sitting next to a white kid?  There was no Civil Rights Act yet; you could still refuse to seat black diners at your restaurant if you wanted.

It mattered because our schools taught math and science. Still, they also taught language, literature, history, civics, and religion; these courses are all gateways to culture, and in Mississippi, the last thing people wanted was to admit Africans into the white culture.  

Schools are cultural gateways.  You’re given a mascot.  You’re taught to have “school spirit.”  You cheer for your school, mainly when it plays other schools.  More importantly, though, you form relationships, like my driver who wanted to tell a total stranger that he shared this cultural connection with a man I knew, and in many ways, that made us equal.

I’ve written extensively about when and why my parents decided to take me out of public school.  Had I stayed in public school, I would have spent most of my high school career with this guy.  We would have been alumni together.  Forty-five years later, it seems alien that anyone would try to keep us apart, but they did.  

Many people say that there’s no reason to write about these things, that there have been a lot of other people who wrote about it already, and obsessing over the past is no way to bring on a happy future.  You’re supposed to write about what you know, though, and write about what you feel.  What I know is what happened to Mississippi, and what I feel, more often than not, is haunted,

As a man, Jeff became a gatekeeper to a new kind of culture in Mississippi.  It’s been challenging and sometimes painful, but we’re forging a new, blended sort of culture in Mississippi.   James Meridith was the first African to graduate from the University of Mississippi sixty days after I was born.  Today, he walks around Jackson like a movie star, and whatever he did, it wasn’t really that big of a deal.  It was that big of a deal.  They shot the guy.  The only reason he lived and Medgar Evers didn’t was because some redneck had lousy aim.  Nobody knows who Aubrey James Norvell was, but they ask James Meridith to sign autographs for their grandchildren.  I’m okay with that outcome.  

Much has been written about why Mississippians were adamant about not allowing black faces through our cultural gateways.  Questions of why always matter, but in this case, the questions seem to go round and round in circles.  I’ve been told, my entire life, that Mississippi would have corrected itself eventually.  I don’t think I believe that.  Even with tremendous pressure, some men fought this to their graves.  

I’m not a very good gatekeeper.  I don’t like to talk to strangers, and I don’t like to talk to anyone at all unless I know you pretty well.  I prefer books to pickleball or cocktail parties.  I’m grateful that there are gatekeepers, though.  Some open restaurants, and some drive Uber taxis.  Both open the passages that allow us to blend our lives together now that the worst part is over.  

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Third Graders in the Light House

Because I'm old, I take a diuretic to make sure my body doesn't retain water because my body works about as well as a 1982 Ford.  It's a tiny dose, and I split it in half, but even then, I still gotta pee for two hours when I take it.  

Normally I just make sure I don't have to be anywhere for two hours when I take it.  This morning, because I make bad decisions, I decided that I was a grown damn man, and I gotta go to church in 30 minutes, but I can still take this tiny little half pill and not have any problem.

I hate having to leave a room with something going on for a latrine break.  Once you've done it, there's the awkward business of retaking your seat.  About two-thirds of the way through Sunday School, it hit me.  I wasn't going to make it till the end, which I hated because it was a really good discussion about how we decide what morality is.  

After visiting the cis-gendered, handicap-enabled little boys' room across the hall from what most of my life had been the fourth and fifth-grade Sunday school, I decided there were only five or six minutes left in class, so rather than facing the walk of shame back into the room, I decided to find a spot in the sanctuary for the eleven o'clock service.

Getting settled in the sanctuary early, I got to see our youth minister working with her third graders as she explained to them the ritual of the church, presenting them with bibles.  I knew this was coming because I actually read the church bulletin email, but I wasn't really ready for the wave after wave of memory watching them produced in me.

Fifty-eight years ago, it was my turn to sit on the front row to receive a bible with my name stamped on it.  Five or six of my readers were there too.  They're much, much younger than I am, but we were third-graders together.  In the congregation were my parents and grandparents, who can't come anymore, just like Eudora Welty, Lance Goss, Ross Moore, and others, but there were some people there today who were also there fifty-eight years ago, Kay Barksdale, TW Lewis, Red Moffett and more.

None of my classmates were there.  Some are current members of Galloway, but they either attended the 8:30 service or didn't come today.  Others don't live in Jackson anymore.  Some are not even in Mississippi.  One runs the most famous restaurant in Oxford.

Membership in Galloway isn't a comfortable kind of Christianity.  As I study our history, I'm learning how many times Galloway was the steady ship in a bad storm with a hull thick enough to break the ice in uncharted waters delivering its cargo to calmer seas.  Yesterday, Galloway helped host over six thousand people for the Mississippi Book Festival.  Galloway is uniquely suited to do this, both because of its physical proximity to the Capitol but also because of its historical connection to Mississippi writers.

Most of the people in my Sunday School have Ph.D., MD,  or JD after their name.  One is a judge, and one is the first boy to become a Rhode's Scholar from Millsaps.  My daddy always thought he'd be governor one day.  That never happened, but he did fabricate governors all over the country.  He'd probably object to my choice of verb here, but if you're in his party and you want to win an election, he's your guy.  We're readers.  We read in several languages and look for things to read to challenge our worldview.  I can't think of a congregation better suited to the broad spectrum of thought that makes up the Mississippi Book Festival.  

Christianity is ancient.  It is the conduit of so many of our cultural threads going back through the millennia.  It connects us to all the wonders and beauty and pain and regret of the centuries.  Galloway acts as a light-house through time.  There are rough seas ahead, there were rough seas in the past, but Galloway provided a beacon then, and it provides a beacon now.  

It hasn't been easy forging a culture in this country, particularly in Mississippi.  We've made horrible, painful mistakes, but if you build your house on solid ground, you can weather any storm.  Matthew and Luke both recount the parable of building on solid ground.  

Galloway is built on an ancient site.  Did you know there was a graveyard underneath it?  A small plot with the mortal remains of some of Jackson's earliest residents, the sanctuary was built over it.  The graves and the gravestones still stand undisturbed, save for decades and decades of organ music.  We are a light-house to history.  Their history sits with us every Sunday.

Generations and generations of eight-year-olds have been folded into and made a part of our congregation.  There's so much more to it than just accepting the Lord and learning a few bible verses.  At eight years old, you become part of something ancient.  You're eight, so you don't understand this, but the thread of culture going back to the pharos continues through you.

My diuretic stuck again, and I couldn't finish Cary's sermon, but I listened to it on Youtube.  

Driving home, I thought, the world is a confusing, sometimes frightening place.  Bringing eight-year-olds into this ancient battle seems like such a strange thing to do, almost cruel, but it's an ancient and honorable ritual.  Standing up in front of your parents' friends and accepting the gift of a book seems like an odd thing to do, but it's the start of something.  It's the entrance into something very ancient that struggles to find the good in life and fight for it and fight for you as you fight for others.  You're eight, but now you're a light-house keeper.  Even if you don't stay here.  Even if you move far away and transfer your membership out of Galloway, you take some of us with you, and we keep some of you with us.  Don't be surprised if you look at your books when you're sixty and say, "Wow, that's my third-grade bible."  

Friday, August 18, 2023

The Ritual Killer Review

Last night my friend Tom messaged me that Morgan Freeman was giving a lecture at Millsaps in a movie.  “The Ritual Killer,” now streaming on Hulu, was shot in Jackson during the time when I was still really sick, so I guess I missed a lot of information about it.  The film was shot in Italy, Jackson, Clinton, and the Pearl River Reservoir.  It’s a psychological thriller with Cole Hauser from Yellowstone playing a Clinton, Mississippi Homicide Detective (the Clinton Police Force may not have homicide detectives.  It’s only about 20 guys.)  Morgan Freeman plays a professor of African History at a small college in Clinton.  There actually is a small college in Clinton, but they shot the film in Jackson at Millsaps instead.

The Ritual Killing referenced here is African shamanistic medicine, which in some instances, requires human body parts for the more powerful rituals.  There was a rash of these sorts of killings in Africa a few years ago.   In the film, a powerful businessman hires an African shaman to come to Clinton, Mississippi, where he lives, and conduct these rituals to make him more powerful, rituals that require the sacrifice of two children and a teenager, which is where the homicide detective comes in.

Morgan Freeman plays an anthropology professor.  The first scene with him has him lecturing in the Heritage Lecture Hall in the Ford Academic Complex.  With all its geometric shapes and brick patterns, the building photographs really well.  One of the students in his class is Claire Azordegan, who was in the Spring Show last year.  She doesn’t have any speaking lines, but she does a good job of looking like she’s studying really hard.  I expected to recognize other players in the production, but most were out-of-towners.  Bill Luckett as the crime scene scientist, did make me smile.  Bill died two years ago, and we still haven’t anyone like him yet.  Covid and other issues delayed the release of the film.  

The writing credits for this film look like a house party.  IMDB lists seven different writers.  None of the writers are from here, which is why, most of the time, it feels like they just threw a dart at the map and chose to set the film in Clinton.  Although they did a fair amount of research into African Culture, they did zero research into Southern Culture.  This film could just have easily been set in Chicago or Fresno, or any city.

To write a film about voodoo killings and not even have some of it set in New Orleans is a huge missed opportunity.  There are a few exterior shots toward the end that were apparently shot in Baton Rouge (there are no riverside warehouses on the Pearl River.)  A film about African culture set in Mississippi is such an obvious opportunity to discuss the exchange between African and European cultures that makes up the state culture of Mississippi, but one the screenwriters completely ignore.  There’s absolutely no story-driven reason to set the film in Mississippi.  It’s just a place.

That being said, they photographed Jackson and Millsaps beautifully.  There are a few exterior establishing shots actually done in Clinton, but nearly the entire film is shot in Jackson, including a police chase through the Lamar Life Building and a couple of really good scenes shot in Hal and Mals.  I feel like the Mississippi Film Office just gave them a list of filming locations, and the director said, “Sure.”  It works too.  The film feels very much like it’s set in Middle America, which I suppose was the objective, but they left an awful lot on the table.

Most of the scenes shot in Italy could have been shot anywhere too.  The writers don’t seem to have any sense of place at all.  It’s like they wanted an excuse to spend two months filming in Rome, so they wrote it into the movie.  I know a guy who actually did that.  The movie is 20 Million Miles to Earth.  Check it out sometime.  Shooting it in Rome gave Ray Harryhausen a pretty great honeymoon.

Morgan Freeman’s role is very similar to the character he played in Se7en and Kiss the Girls.  I”m sure Cole Hauser can be a fine actor, but in scenes with Morgan Freeman, you can tell he’s scared to death and comes off as really wooden and not committed to the scene at all.

As a psychological thriller, I’m pretty pleased with the film.  It has a nice, even tension to it, and you end up feeling pretty strongly about the leads finding a resolution to the action.  It’s kind of like dinner at a Chinese restaurant, though; you’re hungry an hour later.  If you’re from Jackson or at all involved with Millsaps, it’s worth watching just so you can pick out locations you know.  

With New Orleans so nearby, nobody has ever done a movie about Voodoo in Mississippi before.  We have it, though.  There was a time when one of our store managers fired an unreliable delivery guy, and there were chicken bones left in the doorway to the building for a month.  

Nearly everybody has Hulu these days.  It’s worth a night at home watching movies.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Mustard Seeds

There was no Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame for the first half of my life. The Jackson Touchdown Club met once a year in the ballroom of the Walthal Hotel and handed out awards to guys who used to play football. 

My father won it for "leadership." I guess he wasn't that great at football itself. My Grandfather won it for his 30 years as an SEC Referee, where he was also blessed with three fuzed vertebrae when an LSU player tackled him and the man with the ball at the same time and spent the rest of his life walking with a cane and listing to the right.  

The Touchdown Club was kind of a good ole' boy thing but a well-thought-of one. Their meetings usually consisted of about ten tables and maybe forty people. The one I went to Saturday had around sixty tables and at least a thousand people. There are very few places in town with a ballroom big enough to hold that crowd.

Michael Rubenstein started working in Jackson when I was in my later teenage years. He was from Boonville, but many people thought he was from New York because of his name. Rubenstein was a reporter for WLBT and quickly took over the sports department. All three stations had a sports department, but Michael decided to distinguish channel 3 and himself by simply working harder.

Rubenstein was kind of a solitary guy. I'd see him sitting by himself at the bar of George Street and later at Hal & Mals, but I almost never saw him pile into CS's with the rest of the WLBT News crew at the end of the ten pm broadcast. My friend Doug Mann used to get drunk and say, "Hey, Look! It's Bob! Bob Ballou!" Referencing the Desi Arnez song when Howard Ballou came in. Ballou took it in good spirits, but I'm sure there were times when he thought, "What the hell?" to himself.  

When Rubenstein took over at WLBT, the city had just built Smith-Wills stadium. Some people want to call it the Hank Aaron Stadium. I'm against that. Aaron was born in Mobile and played in Milwaukee and Atlanta. He had nothing to do with Jackson, whereas both Smith and Wills were well-known characters in our history.

Smith-Wills existed because Con Maloney was an Irish Catholic guy with a lot of drive, motivation, and money, and he wanted minor-league baseball in the capital city. I think the world of Con Maloney. He was a Millsaps boy who left the school with his feet running. They ran him to the State Senate and the boards of everything from Millsaps to Trustmark to St. Dominics. 

In the corner of the Smith-Wills complex was a high-school league field, and besides that was a tiny museum dedicated to Dizzy Dean. That was the start of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
Michael Rubenstein had an active mind and a lot of ambition. He used his position as Mississippi's top sports broadcaster and the business connections he made through Con Maloney to start the idea of a "Sports Hall of Fame Museum" to take up a spot in the parking lot of Smith-Wills, that was at one time considered for another High School field.  

They showed the drawings for the proposed Museum on the television, and I thought, "Boy, that's gonna be a lot of money." Even then, I was getting jaded by guys showing off impressive architectural renderings for things that never happened. Mississippi didn't have a lot of money. Jackson didn't have a lot of money. Getting this thing built was gonna be a considerable challenge.

I underestimated the sheer tenacity of Michael Rubenstein. It took about six years, but the Museum was built. Next door to it, Jim Buck Ross started putting together his plan for an Agricultural Museum, and pretty soon, that part of Lakeland Drive was pretty impressive. Part of his vision was to evolve the Jackson Touchdown Club into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, which is where I was Saturday Night.  

A lot of Millsaps guys have been part of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame since its inception. Saturday night was important to me because it featured two guys who were at Millsaps when I was at Millsaps. Saturday, they announced the first recipient of the Bill Hetrick Community Service Award. Afterward, they inducted Coach Jim Page into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Jim has coached baseball at Millsaps for thirty-four years, starting not long after I graduated. That's a remarkable run. In the modern world of sports coaches, that kind of tenure is unheard of. When I met these guys, Jim played, and Bill watched and sometimes kept team stats. After that, we'd all end up at the Texas League Champion Jackson Mets games, usually on the third base side, where a guy with a cooler would bring you a beer. That's about all the luxury a man needs.  

Mississippi is a humble place. Jackson is a humble place. Millsaps is a humble place. Never underestimate us, though. Michael Rubenstein's passion project intersected with so many lives of the people of Mississippi. I've watched this story grow from the smallest seed. In Mississippi, you really need to stick around to see the end. The parable of the mustard seed can show up in unexpected places.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Sunday Sermon July 30 2023

 The governor came to church today.  It’s good for the church when he comes, and it’s good for him when he comes, and I don’t mean politically (although that might have been a consideration.)  I can’t promise there weren’t twenty people around him praying that Jesus would remove the scales from his eyes, but I’m pretty sure he knew that was part of the job when he took it.  

There’s a lot going on in his life, including a second run for governor of Mississippi.  A little bird told me he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his reception at the Neshoba County Fair, so that might have something to do with him being butt in the pew this morning.  To my way of thinking, a candidate who is a little dissatisfied with the job he’s doing is a lot more beneficial than the guy who thinks he can do no wrong.

I like Tate.  We have a lot in common.  When he was a student, I used to talk to Matt Henry about him when they were both KAs at Millsaps.  Matt liked him too.  I wish I could talk to Matt about anything again.  A lot has changed for Tate since he left Millsaps.  A lot of his views have gone from fairly moderate to, I don’t know what to call them now.  I honestly don’t believe in my heart that Tate honestly believes in a lot of the things he’s been pushing for lately, but I think the men pulling his strings and making promises about his future career that they’ll never keep are leading him astray of his own judgment.  

I’m not the guy who’s gonna say Mississippi needs a Democratic government because, quite frankly, considering the state of the Mississippi Democratic Party right now, other than about four people, I wouldn’t trust them to organize a fish fry.  A lot of people think Presley can turn it around, but that’s an awful lot to put on one guy.  We’ve had strong Democratic governors before, but they served when there was a strong Democratic Party backing them up.  People call William Winter Mississippi’s greatest governor, and maybe he was, but he had a team of some of the sharpest guys I ever met behind him, both on his staff and in the legislature.  

With a word, Tate could do more good than I could with a year's effort.  Good for Mississippi and its people.  With just a few words, he could make huge strides in healing the schism in the United Methodist Church in Mississippi and solving the hospital crisis in Mississippi.  I don’t think that word is coming.  I think there are men with a very impractical vision of Mississippi holding carrots in front of Tate’s nose and dangling swords over his head.  Those words aren’t coming.  

Not long ago, a senior member of Tate’s party told me he thought “market forces” would solve the problem of Mississippi hospitals.  It was a moment that took my breath away a little.  I didn’t say anything, but what I wanted to say was, “Dick Wilson came to me thirty-five years ago and said you wanted to run for office, and you were a solid conservative, and I should give you a listen–which I did.  Somewhere along the way, you and some other guys changed the definition of what a conservative means, and now you’re as useless as tits on a bull when it comes to solving Mississippi’s problems.”  I didn’t say that, not because I’m a gentleman, but because I don’t think he’d listen to me, and I didn’t want to get in a fight in front of people.

After Sunday School, I thought, maybe some of us who Tate either knows or knows of should go see him with hats in hand and talk to him about what Jesus wants for Mississippi, and I don’t mean what Jesus wants for the unborn babies of Mississippi, because right now being a born baby in Mississippi can be a pretty sketchy proposition with way too high of a chance for a horrible ending, and he’s much more able to solve this than me or any of my friends.  I’m not good at begging, but I’d beg for the people of Mississippi.  I’d beg Tate Reeves to remember what he was taught at Millsaps and make choices based on what the people who are trying to live here need, not based on what some conservative talk show host says is important.  You going on Fox News isn’t going to save one malnourished baby or one heart attack victim living in an area without a hospital.  

Going to church should mean more than just going to church.  Cary was sick today, so Susannah delivered the sermon.  Her sermon was about presenting a welcoming face to the world and the good it can do.  In it, she discussed her time ministering to Aids victims at a time when most people weren’t very educated about how Aids spread, and there were few effective treatments for it.  She made the point of how powerful a simple human embrace could be for someone whose own family is afraid to hold them for fear of the disease.  She didn’t know the governor would be in the pews before her this morning.  She didn’t even know she would be preaching.  I know he heard what she was saying.  Whether it reached into his heart is between him and Jesus.

If I could talk to Tate today, I’d tell him that his heart is a lot more likely to tell him the truth than whoever is whispering they’ll send him to Washington in his ears.  Hopefully, he realizes he’s not the first guy they did this to.  Tate’s smart enough to pass comprehensive exams at Millsaps.  He’s smart enough to figure this out.  He just needs to listen to a higher power.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

An Elven Messenger In The Woods

Sometimes I run into people who, even if we never interacted so much before, my life and theirs intertwine like the roots of two trees in the same patch of forest, deep and wide pushing through the same soil, pulling out the same moisture and nutrients to keep our leaves alive and send out new buds.

Wanting to be a writer, calling myself a writer, and actually being a writer are all very different things.  I can, and did, type a thousand words a day for forty years, but I'm still not a writer because unless I offer those thousand words for anybody to read, it's not communication; my typing is a dead message with no listener.  With no listener, there is no writing.  

When the prospect of turning sixty came into my sights as a reality, I decided that regardless of whatever health challenges I have left (which get fewer every day), I should mend this situation.  God created me wanting to type a thousand words a day, more than wanting to--needing to.  If I don't get my words out in a day, I feel incomplete, and if I go two or three days without it, depression starts to set in.  I don't know how much I believe in the idea of "God's Plan," but I don't believe that much of a compulsion to do something would come without there being some purpose in it.  

I knew I could do the work.  I've been doing it as long and sometimes much longer than I've known most of you.  Other than my brother and sister, there's a pretty small fraternity of people who knew me before Mrs. Kitchings suggested I learn to type.  Doing the work and getting it out in the world are two different things, so I decided that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to start making connections with writers.  I grew up seeing Willie Morris and Larry Brown in bars and Eudora Welty at parties and socialite functions, but that's something different.  I needed to make connections with people who were trying to do the same thing I was doing, only better and with more confidence and more experience, who could show me the way.

Since today's prospective college student consumes twenty times more new media than traditional media, one of my strategies for the past two years has been to identify and amplify the social media message from organizations that are important to me.  I know how this works.  The social media companies "publish" millions of messages every day and decides how many people to show this message to by how much engagement the message gets and how much engagement the sender normally gets.  That means if I like, comment, and share the social media messages of the organizations I care about, then it greatly increases the chances that the social media company will serve the message to another target of the message, in this case, prospective students and prospective donors.  

This might sound dumb, but tapping "heart" or typing "Great Job" on the stuff Millsaps posts makes a huge difference.  Every time you do it, you increase the algorithm score on both the message and the school.  As a side benefit, whenever I log into social media for the day, I get a pretty comprehensive run down on what's happening on campus, a task I used to accomplish by strolling around campus or just talking to Joe Lee Gibson while he emptied the garbage cans.  

This way, I end up knowing, every day, what's going on with the Phi Mu's, what's going on with Food Services, the Baseball Team, Campus Pride, The Many Adventures of George Bey, and what was the original kernel of this story, whatever Liz Egan and the Writing Center was doing, which one day included a one-sheet about the McMuling Writing Workshop.  Having just seen it that morning, I mentioned to my sister in church that maybe I should go to that.  She said I should.  Having that conversation at that place at that time with that person probably meant something.   I was still basking in the blessing Cary transmitted to us at the end of his sermon, so when I got home, I shot off an email to the address on the post, which I assumed would be Liz or one of her students.

Preparing for the course, I sent in the possible first chapter of a book I'm working on, and the first person to respond to it was a woman who I knew worked at Millsaps named Isabelle Higbee.  Even though it said "Ezelle" in her Facebook profile, I wasn't yet making a connection with who she was.  Isabelle had just retired from a position at Millsaps that I always knew as Jack Woodward's office, so that's a pretty big connection there, but there was still a lot more I didn't know about yet.

Part of the writing workshop is reading to the other participant's pieces of what we're working on.  Sharing your work with other people doing the same sort of work is an important part of the creative process.  Isabelle's project is stories her mother told her about how her parents met during World War II in what became occupied Belgium.  As she told the story, my ears began to tingle.  Holy Shit, did James "Paddy" Hearon have a daughter I didn't know about?  James worked for my father for most of his life and took a special interest in me when it became clear that I was drowning in my professional life and struggling to find a place where I belonged.  

"Who was your father?" I asked.  "Robert Ezelle," she said.  I still wasn't making the connection.  I said that her story was so incredibly familiar to me that I knew a guy who had almost the same life story.  "James Hearon?" She said.  Her mother and James' wife Paulette knew each other and spoke frequently as the only two Belgians living in Jackson.  Then she said something about Mississippi Bedding, and the pieces started falling into place.  "Do you mean Bob Ezelle?"  I said.  I'd known her father and her brothers my entire life, but I had never heard the story of how her mother came from Belgium during the war.  

I'm ashamed to admit this, but sometimes little sisters get overlooked.  I always thought I tried not to do that, but I guess I missed one.  Isabelle's brothers were a huge part of Galloway Youth Ministries and a huge part of my youth.  They and the Gobers pretty much ran the place.  There's more to the story, though.  Part of our business at Missco was selling furniture for dormitories at schools and (unfortunately) furniture in prisons, and each of those furniture sets required a pretty durable mattress that we always bought from Bob Ezelle.  We laughed; even though Franklin Dorm is mostly used for storage now, I'm sure there are still a bunch of mattresses in it that came from Mississippi Bedding.  Our lives had roots that had interwoven for years, and because I'm sometimes completely socially blind, I had missed her.  Deciding to take this course in writing mended that.  Now that I've been given a second chance in life, I'm paying a lot closer attention to the trees around me, and this was one of them.

In The Lord of the Rings, it means something where there's a member of the Elven race in the woods.  They're this powerful class of being with magical forces that tie them deeply to the roots of Middle Earth, and their presence means something important is happening.

One of the first faces I picked out of the crowd when I attended the McMullin Writer's Workshop was Jeanne Luckett.  I can't remember a time when I didn't know who Jeanne Luckett was.  Even though she was considerably younger than my Daddy, he was incredibly impressed by her, not only because she was a Millsaps kid (which she was) but also because, on a professional level, she was involved in everything he thought was important, so throughout my life, whenever we would discuss these major campaigns going on, like the re-naming of First National Bank, or giving Millsaps a new look, or giving Missco a new look, her name was part of the conversation, and her work was not only evident but prevalent.  

To be honest, she always kind of intimidated me.  One of Daddy's business associates, whom I never got to fish with or drink with, was always kind of a mystery to me.  But I knew that everybody who knew her loved her, including some really important ones like Suzanne Maars and Rowan Taylor.  During the night, when Graphic Novelist Andrew Aydin lectured, I saw him talking with Jeanne.  Passing to my seat, I touched his elbow and said pretty cheekily, "Don't let her fool you; that's one of the most important marketing people in Mississippi history."  I meant it too, but I think I embarrassed her.  Having grown up at the feet of people who had remarkable careers, most of them didn't impress me with what they created, but she did.  Just driving around town, even now, I can look at things and say, "She did that.  She did that.  She did that too."

On the last day of the conference, I came early because I always try to go early to things now.  I spent so long not going to things at all that I figured I needed to start going early so I could catch up.  Going early, I had a chance to get Jeanne alone for a few minutes.  Talking like that, one on one for a good spell, really for the first time ever, I learned that our lives overlapped and intertwined in so many ways.  It means something when you love the same things and the same people, and that's something I share on so many levels with Jeanne Luckett.  For me, her face will still always mean that there's an Elven messenger in the forest, but now I'll always know this was someone who drank from the same well I drank from, someone whose history is part of my own.

One of the last things Ellen Ann Fentress said before I left at the end of the conference was, "Why don't you try putting together a short story."  I've always liked short stories, but I never thought I could write them, even though I've had some great teachers in short stories, including Austin Wilson and Suzanne Maars.  

Even though they ordered in some really great sandwiches from Broad Street for the conference, I made a tomato sandwich when I got home, just because we're rapidly running out of tomato sandwich season, and holding it over the sink to eat it so I don't get tomato seeds and tomato goo on my shirt, I started putting clay on the board and poking around at it with the idea of what sort of short story I could write.

Ray Bradbury's name came up over and over during the conference.  One of my peers, Kate, who was a very recent Millsaps Graduate, is taken with him too; she should be; he's Ray Bradbury.  One of the things Bradbury told me at the House of Pies, with Uncle Forry across from us, was that I shouldn't worry about writing, that I loved robots and dinosaurs, so I should be ok.  With that in mind, I started turning over ideas of robots and dinosaurs and rocket ships and Martians in my head, and what I heard was a whale song, and I knew I had my story.  

I've already written a crap ton this morning.  God knows if anyone will read this.  I have my idea for a short story.  Hopefully, I'll have at least the skeleton laid out by Monday.  

Friday, July 21, 2023

What Motivates Amanda

It's my hope that I can show you more than I tell you in my book, but since these are imaginary people, I have to decide what to tell you before I show it.  Although my characters are all imaginary, they all have qualities and histories that match people I've known in real life, but none of them have the same combination of qualities and histories as people I've known in real life.  It's kind of fun to say, "What if they're like John but with a father like Mary and a smoking habit like Tom?"   

Some of the faculty and administration do have pretty close to a one-to-one correlation with real-life people, like George Harmon and Lance Goss.  I even include Frank Hanes just so I can give him a happier ending.  None of them are exactly one-to-one, but they'll be recognizable.  None of the students or their parents match up with any living person in every aspect.  They're all amalgamations.  They're all imaginary and not meant to be taken as my opinion of any real person.

 Amanda Moore is eighteen.  At 5'8" she considers herself tall for a girl.  She'd much rather be six inches shorter.  She has light brown hair, with tremendous hazel eyes, and a few acne scars that aren't nearly as noticeable as she believes they are.  Most would say she was pretty, but she practices not looking friendly or approachable.  Her looks get her attention, and she knows how to work that, but her looks give her very little satisfaction or confidence.  

Other parts of her personality get in the way of her education.  Without that, she'd make a remarkable lawyer one day.  If she had any confidence, she could do just about anything, but despite the attitude she projects, she has none.  She's always done well in school because she was usually the brightest one in the class, but now that she's in a school full of kids who were the brightest ones in class, she's lost her seat at the table.  

Amanda is from Pascagoula, between Camille and Katrina, and before gulf coast gambling.  She's the only child of her mother, who was the second wife of her father, who now lives with his third wife, who is twenty years younger than him.  She has three half-brothers and sisters, including the four-year-old, that now gets all her father's love.  At four, he's decided that this will be the big strong son he always wanted, even though he's only four and still eats his boogers.

A modern psychologist would diagnose Amanda with Histrionic personality disorder.  Amanada's only ever seen one psychologist, a marriage and family counselor, ordered by the court when her mother sued her father for more support.  Since then, Amanda has refused to see any "head shrinkers," even after she started cutting her arms and thighs at fifteen.  Her mother, who is never sober after five o'clock, accepts Amanda's promise to "get help at school," even though her school counselor isn't a psychologist.  She's not even a counselor.  She's a nice Christian lady her private academy hired because she had an education degree and the right political attitude.  

Amanda has been experimenting with sex and drugs since she was fifteen.  A pretty girl can always get free drugs.  Sex gets her attention but never warmth, passion, compassion, or companionship.  Sex sometimes gets her better drugs and more of them.  

Amanda chose Marsh for college because her father and grandfather went there.  Her mother sees it as a chance for a new beginning, away from those nasty boys who she knew were leading her precious only child down the wrong paths.  Her mother went to community college.  She was her father's secretary before she became his mistress and would have probably remained his mistress had she not confronted Amanda's Father's first wife with a tremendous pregnant belly and some bad news.   Her father's first and second wives are now pretty good friends who mix a drink and call each other on the phone to talk about how much they hate the third wife and her stupid son.

Marsh College could be a fresh start and a new beginning for Amanda.  Her life could be very different, but she doesn't want that.  She wants more of what she had in Pascagoula, only this time with smarter boys, better drugs, and nobody to talk her ear off if she comes home four hours late.  

I'm trying to figure out ways that Amanda can eventually find happiness and peace later in life.  With all my characters, I'm telling the story of the moment but showing glimpses of both their past and their future.   That's kind of the point.  College isn't a destination.  It's a transitory point between the future and the past, even for the people who work there.  I'd like to say that what happens in the book is a painful moment that passes, and life becomes better; I just don't know how I'm going to do that just yet.  I'm not going to leave Amanda in the state she's in, though.  These are my creations, and I do have a fondness for all of them.  

Amanda will come off like a bitch, and somebody you don't want to be around.  It's my hope to show that she really never had a chance.  The cards were stacked against her.  Bradley tries really hard to find some good in her, but he's looking in the wrong places.  His attitude comes from an unstated belief that women are always good at heart, and men are always bad at heart, and someone like him has to mediate a safe place between them.  That's kind of the premise of being a gentleman, a myth Bradley believes more than he believes anything else and tries to apply in his life, but never with the results he hopes for.  People are never good or bad.  Their choices might be, but they themselves aren't.  Everybody tries to do good, even if they're wrong about what good is.

Amanda and Bradley, and Laurel aren't real, but I want to make them feel real.  That's one of the reasons why I'm setting them in a place that's very real, so real that some of my readers will recognize even the trees and the hills.  I'm not promising solutions to social problems.  This is just a story about people.  These are just observations about things that are in all people.  I'm not strong enough to shape a solution to what happens in the world, but I can maybe tell you about it.  I hope readers will see something they can sympathize with and understand in both the nicest and the meanest characters.  

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Quentin Compson Leaves Home.

Mississippi never leads nor follows.  It intensifies whatever fears and prejudices are already present in the larger society as if to say, "We can do it too," worried that, if we don't, we might be overlooked or forgotten about.   

"Do you hate blacks and queers?  We really, really hate them.    We'll prove it, and boy, will you be impressed.  Do you want to stop abortion?  We really want to stop abortion.  We'll do anything to stop it.  Boy, will you be impressed!"

It's not that we can't change, or be loving, or human.  We once tried to kill James Meridith, but now he walks those same streets as a hero.  People ask him to pose for a photo with their children.  It's almost as if we proved our point about integration; now, we can go back to being human again.  We never really hated the guy; we were just trying to show how dedicated we were to this idea, even though those who did lead were leading the entire country in another direction.     

Maybe, ultimately, it's a matter of confidence.  Maybe if we had more of it, we wouldn't be so determined to lead the way on the most prevalent negative emotions.   Maybe then we could say, "That's too much.  We don't want any part of that."

Yesterday we had a lecture from Donna Ladd, formerly the founder of the Jackson Free Press and now Editor of the Mississippi Free Press.   When I first started blogging, some of the people who now run very political blogs recognized me as having once been very political and tried to win me to their side by impressing me with how much they hated and disagreed with Donna.  Now that the face of journalism is changing, I worry that those same guys are having a much larger impact than they deserve.  That's not to say we didn't suffer from horribly biased news before, but for a while, we had almost liberated ourselves from that.  

Donna has launched more young writers than I've even met.  That makes her the perfect addition to the McMullan Young Writers program.  Donna's from Philadelphia, Mississippi.  She's just a couple years older than I am, and I was born in 1963.  If you think about what happened in Philadelphia in 1964, then you can't really blame her for feeling some sorta way about Mississippi.  

Those feelings made her want, more than anything, to escape Mississippi and never come back.  I know of a lot of people who had the same feeling, some really famous ones like Oprah Winfrey and Leontine Price, and Tennessee Williams.  Williams didn't go far, but in the 50s and 60s, New Orleans was an oasis of its own.  There were only a few places in the country where he could be what he was, New Orleans was one, and Mississippi was not.

At one point in her lecture, Donna asked the question that I spend a great deal of time thinking about.  "How many of you want to leave Mississippi when you graduate?"  More than half of the hands went up.  Some with energy and enthusiasm.  

I talk about this with my friends a lot.  "How do you keep your children here?"  So many of my generation face this.  Some of the young people in the forum that day were actually children of people I've known for a long time, raising their hands to say they want to leave Mississippi--to my mind, they want to leave those who love them more than anything.  I can't really blame them.  We invest so much treasure and time and energy and blood into raising these children, working so very hard to make sure they become remarkable people, and when they do actually become remarkable people, can we really ask them to stay here knowing that they might have to clip the wings we spent a lifetime giving them?

So much of what happened in Philadelphia that summer in 1964 touched my life.  Even though I was just learning to walk, it was so close to me.  My father always told the story of how the FBI called and wanted forty desk sets in forty-eight hours and how he struggled to fill the order.  Ben Puckett talked about the day the FBI called to rent equipment to dig up an earthen dam.  Clay Lee was a passionate young minister who the conference moved away from some pretty terrible things in Jackson, at Galloway, and sent him to a quiet country church where the troubles of Mississippi wouldn't upset his promising career, and they sent him to--Philadelphia Mississippi, just months before June of 1964.

I can't really blame Donna for leaving Mississippi.  We didn't exactly lay an appetizing table before her.  It's a miracle we ever got her back. 

When I was at St. Catherine's, I would have coffee with some guys, and one of them told the story of how they longed to leave Mississippi and see the world, and did, but when he saw in the newspapers that Rabbi Nussbaum's office and synagog were bombed, he figured he needed to go back to Mississippi.  He never hated Mississippi, but he never thought he'd get such a loud call to come back to her, either.

Many of Faulkner's characters spend a great deal of time turning over in their head what it means to be from Mississippi.  In Absalom, Absalom! my sometimes favorite novel, Quentin Compson struggles with his feelings about his home.  Throughout Faulkner's books, the Compsons often represent the moral heart of Mississippi.  Far from home, he says, “I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!”  I've never really had a Quentin Compson moment, but it's been close.  I've known a lot of people who did, though, and acted on it.  It's our own fault, really.  Everybody has a chance to make it better, but not everybody does. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Photo Prompts

For my writing workshop today, we were assigned to bring in photo prompts for some free writing.  I have a folder on my phone of a couple hundred photos I use as prompts for drawing and painting.  These are images I don't know that much about, but I thought they looked cool.  I can write about that.  

Then I started thinking about maybe photographs where I do know the backstory.  Maybe those would be an even better writing prompt.  I chose two; one is of Bob Addams in front of the observatory.   I honestly could write an entire book about the observatory and the things that went on there, but if I did, there are people who wouldn't speak to me afterward.   Lately, though, I've been thinking it might be shocking if their children found out their parents did these things, so I shouldn't write about that, but their grandchildren will soon be old enough to think it was pretty cool.   I also really love Bob Addams.  

The other is a fairly famous picture of Ed King at the Woolworth sit-ins.  I picked that because I was born a month later.  Less than two years later, some thugs would run Rev. King off the road and forever change his face.  I never knew him before the accident.  He was quite handsome.  I don't remember a time when Ed King wasn't around somewhere.  He didn't rest after the sixties.  He stayed involved in everything, particularly everything I was involved in.  When I was an undergraduate, I'd see Ed show up at Millsaps, and I knew somebody was going to get a dressing down.  He didn't make many social calls, but when he felt like there was something going on, he addressed it.  A lot of guys from the Civil Rights Era were punished for it in the 70s and 80s.  Mississippi wanted very much to separate itself from its racist past, but Ed King was made chaplain of the University Medical Center, the biggest gem in the Mississippi higher education system.  I'm not really privy to how that decision was made, but it sent a very clear message.  

If my free writing is any good, I'll post it here.  I can produce words like mini muffins as long as I can type, but they're not all worth reading.  

Official Ted Lasso